Here in the US, we are experiencing an ice cream renaissance. July, which is national ice cream month, is the perfect time to rediscover this childhood favorite. Thanks to the artisanal ice cream craze sweeping the country, lovers of the cold and delicious treat can choose from a range of eclectic flavors that go way beyond chocolate and vanilla. While you’ll have to decide for yourself which variety to order at your local ice cream shop, we at BookTrib can at least tell you what to read while you’re enjoying that favorite cone.
In her debut novel, The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street (Grand Central Publishing, June), Susan Jane Gilman serves up our favorite dessert with a side of historical fiction. The novel, narrated in the acerbic voice of Lillian Dunkle, tells the story of Lillian’s arrival as a child in the United States from Russia, her adoption by an Italian ice cream maker, her marriage to a Jewish immigrant and her rise to become America’s ice cream queen.
Gilman, who is the author of Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven, a memoir about traveling in China during the mid 1980s soon after the country opened up to foreigners, as well as two other collections of non-fiction, is known for her humor. Her gift for humor is on display in the novel, along with a gift for thorough research. The novel spans 70 years of American history, including details of tenement life in the early 1900s, communism and Joe McCarthy, and the suburbanization of America. Beside these details, the novel includes information about the history of ice cream in America. Gilman even worked briefly at a Carvel Ice Cream store as part of her research for the book.
Far from a dry history, the novel is a poignant page-turner with moving descriptions like this one about America’s favorite dessert:
Yet the truth is, darlings, that ice cream, for me, was not a food of happiness at all. Oh, yes, of course: Whenever I first put it in my mouth, I experienced an explosion of delight. But there was no chewing ice cream, no way to let it linker to trick my hunger. As soon as I began to lick the spoon, the ice cream inevitably started to turn to liquid. By the time Mr. Dinello disappeared back upstairs, leaving me along in the kitchen with the debris—the sweetness on my tongue was already becoming a memory. It was like love: No sooner had I finished it than a devastating sense of loss always set it.
Dedicated BookTrib readers may remember our recent coverage of the Coolhaus Ice Cream Book. If you’ve been following the Coolhaus recipes to make your own cool concoctions, consider The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street the perfect novel to read while you’re waiting for the ice cream to chill—or while enjoying the perfect cone. What better way is there to celebrate National Ice Cream Month than with an engrossing summer novel?